Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tuning Your Instrument

In the Yoga Therapeutics workshop I attended today with veteran teacher J.J. Gormley, she used the metaphor of body as instrument. I think this is a particularly apt metaphor in thinking about the mind-body connection. When mind is "in tune", everything is in balance. Anxiety and depression can cause our instrument to go out of tune. Depression can cause our instrument to go flat. Tightening up the strings will bring the instrument back into tune. Anxiety makes our instrument play sharp. In that case, the strings need to be slackened.

Depression is an introverting force (or, langana, in Sanskrit) that encourages us to fold inward, close down. To bring the body back into balance (samana), start with the inclination to fold in, and gently coax the body outward. One way to do this is to start in staff pose. Inhale. Exhale and bend at the waist into a seated forward bend with your shins as your drishti, or focal point. Return to staff pose. Now, try seated forward bend, but make your toes your drishti. Come in and out of seated forward bend several times, moving your drishti incrementally higher each time, while noting any differences in your body's tuning in each subsequent staff pose. (Note: in order to keep your neck long, you will be bending less and less at the waist each time, keeping your head, neck, and torso in good alignment.) After doing the seated forward bend with your focal point at different heights, close the practice with your eyes focused on your shins one more time. What differences do you notice on your mind and body between holding your gaze outward versus downward?

Anxiety, on the contrary, is an agitating force (or in Sanskrit,brhmana), keeping the mind very busy. Start in table-top position. Inhale for 6 counts into cow pose. Exhale for 4 counts into cat. Repeat this a few times. Then equalize your breath for five counts each in cat and cow. After a few repetitions of equal breaths in cat and cow, shorten the inhale into cow to 4 breaths, and lengthen the exhale into cat to 6 breaths. Rest in child's pose. Notice if lengthening your exhale has had any effect on your instrument. Repeat the exercise again, keeping an awareness of how the change in breath alters the tuning of your instrument.

In your home practice, play around with poses using different gazing points or breathing techniques. Note which you experience as calming and which as energizing. When you start to sense anxiety or depression tapping on your shoulder, refer back to your catalogue of poses and implement those counter-balancing poses that could bring your instrument back into balance.

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